Saturday, 10 September 2011

Gamba Preview

After last weekend's break for the Japan international matches, the J1 schedule resumes on Saturday - and it could hardly be with a tougher challenge for Omiya than a trip to current leaders Gamba Osaka. The Blue and Blacks are unbeaten in nine games and their famously potent attack, which picked up a mid-season boost via the signing of Rafinha from minnows Thespa Kusatsu, has registered no fewer than twelve goals in the last three matches. Gamba's notoriously leaky defence has even managed to keep a couple of clean sheets lately, including one against highflying Kashiwa Reysol.

In other words the Squirrels are up against it. And Jun Suzuki's team will go into the game without three probable starters in the shape of long-term injury victims forward Lee Chun Soo and wingback Daisuke Watabe, plus suspended midfield lynchpin Kota Ueda. This will truly be ninety minutes to test Ardija's strength in depth. One positive aspect is that it increases the chances of talismanic supersub Naoki Ishihara picking up what would be only his fourth start of the season, but this is no means certain given Suzuki's preference for him as an impact replacement - it is more likely that veteran Chikara Fujimoto will return to the starting line-up.

Oh happy day Arata Sugiyama would seem to be the most probable choice to come in for Watabe, despite a string of substandard performances throughout this year from the former Ventforet Kofu man; Shin Kanazawa may step in for Ueda, although Omiya really have no-one else with Ueda's ability to retain possession and keep the ball moving in midfield. The Squirrels have been unfortunate not only to lose this trio of players - but also that the break in the fixture list has occurred just at the point when they'd managed their much longed-for first home win of the year.

The confidence boost provided by that 2-0 triumph over Jubilo Iwata will have had more of a chance to dissipate over the subsequent two-week break, during which the only notable incident seems to have been Watabe breaking his metatarsal in training. But still, Gamba tend to allow the opposition to create opportunities to score and in the home game between the teams two months ago it was Ishihara who shone, with an inspirational performance from the bench that included a couple of outstanding goals. If anyone can take the chances on Saturday evening, it's got to be that man Ishihara.



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